This is one of my favorite films of 2018. Some people liked it and some really did not. I surprisingly enjoyed it immensely, not only for the action adventure that it is but also, because of the film’s overarching meaning and wonderful 80s soundtrack, thanks to its director, Steven Spielberg.
Ready Player One takes place in a dystopian world in 2045 where people entertain themselves by entering the virtual world of OASIS in order to escape the oppressive, sad life they now live. James Halliday (Mary Rylance), created the OASIS along with his partner in Gregarious Games, Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg). Morrow leaves the company when he sees how people are becoming too engrossed in the game and it concerns him. When Halliday passes on he leaves a message by his avatar announcing that there is a golden Easter Egg hidden within the game. Whoever can unlock the secrets by obtaining three keys and capture the Egg wins the game, but also becomes the owner of the OASIS.
The film is centered on a teenage orphan named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), or Parzival in the OASIS. He lives with his Aunt Alice (Susan Lynch) in the slums of Columbus, Ohio, or stacks, since houses are stacks of old containers and mobile homes one on top of the other. His best friend in the virtual world is Aech (Lena Waithe), a mechanic. He comes across a fellow gunter, or egg hunter, in his virtual adventures, named Art3mis, or Samantha Cook (Olivia Cooke) in the real world. The two form a close friendship and help each other in their pursuit of the three keys. They are chased by other gunters and the IOI, or Innovative Online Industries and its CEO, Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) who wants complete control of the OASIS. Fantastical virtual pursuits ensue and dangers abound. The keys are so well hidden that one must literally risk their virtual life to be able to achieve the next round.
When Wade loses his only kin out of revenge since the IOI seek to force everyone to a type of servitude, he finds himself unexpectedly involved in the real world rebellion that is acted out partly in the OASIS. Wade becomes more determined than ever to find the Easter Egg to find a way out of the stacks and into a better life. He also begins to fall in love with Art3mis in the virtual world, but in the end sees that true love and true relationships are nurtured in the real, physical world. Parzival calls on all the other OASIS players to fight against the IOI troops. Parzival perseveres and makes it through to the end of the game, winning even an extra life and plays until he is awarded the last key. Halliday appears in the game through his avatar and gives Parzival a contract to sign, but it is the same one that Morrow signed to give away his share of the OASIS. It proves to be the test Parzival needed to pass in order to win the Egg. Parzival refuses and is given the Golden Egg.
When Wade takes control of the OASIS, he and his friends, ban the IOI from making people their slaves and actually decides to shut down access to the OASIS two times a week so people can spend more quality time with others in the real world. The film is about relationships. This is what was the most surprising element of this story. We can enjoy our virtual experiences and pursue strategic games as a way to escape the hardships of life, yet we cannot completely remove ourselves from this tangible, concrete world. Escaping into a virtual world does not satisfy every deep existential human desire that we have. We long for communion and connection with others. We are made to be social beings. It is imperative for us to interact with real flesh and blood human beings. Avatars do not cut it. As Wade Watts says, “I came here to just escape, but I found something much bigger than myself. I found my friends. I found love.” And that friendship and love develops in the real world. Relationships can only go so far in a virtual world. At some point, physical face-to-face interaction is necessary to find satisfaction and fulfillment in relationships. We are material and spiritual beings made to live in communion with God and others. This alone is what gives us life and hope and joy.